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Trends: An Emerging Professional Discusses the Growing Field of Active Design

About Cristina Crespo, Assoc. AIA: Cristina Crespo is currently a Senior Production Designer for Starbucks Coffee Company International Store Design. She is very involved with the Active Design movement and was awarded the 2012 GIA - Gensler Innovation Award for the development of a firm-wide Well-being@Work program. Cristina has served as Co-chair of the Active Design Committee for AIA DC, Co-lead of the AIA Active Design Committee Launching Event and is an active member of Women in Architecture - AIA Miami.

What is Active Design?

Active Design originated as a set of strategies developed by the NYCDDC (NYC Department of Design and Construction) to promote physical activity and a healthy lifestyle.

With the development of these strategies and its momentum nationwide (especially in NYC with Mayor Bloomberg’s initiatives) this concept of Active Design has been elevated to something that goes beyond design. It is accessible to everyone and affects how we experience and interact with space at various levels.

I like to think of Active Design as an organic element that can be implemented at many scales, project types and variations. It is certainly a movement that holds the power of not only transforming the built environment but also shifting cultural and social mindsets in a way that improves the health and well-being of those that inhabit it.

What inspired you to become involved in the Active Design movement?

I had a stroke the year before being introduced to Active Design. Having gone through physical therapy throughout my recovery made me experience first-hand the challenges the built-environment could present to people that are dealing with wellness issues. As an architect going through the struggles of physical and cognitive recovery, I began to re-think the way we design and experience space from a ‘health’ perspective. Once I was 100% back on my feet I made it my goal to align my passion and professional background on design with health & wellness, which became very dear to my heart.

Until recently you were a Sustainability Specialist and LEED consultant at Gensler in the DC office. Can you tell us about your involvement with Active Design with the firm?

My biggest contribution as an active advocate for health & wellness through design was to create a corporate program within Gensler with the mission of exposing designers across all disciplines to the importance and value of Active Design. The pilot program was tested in the DC office and after its huge success, was rolled-out to Europe, Asia, Latin America and Canada as a firm-wide initiative. We called this program ‘Active Design Week’ the first year, and it later developed into ‘Well-being Week’ the second year when it was rolled out to the entire firm.

The program consisted of mapping out and implementing selected design strategies that encouraged people to be more active and healthier within the workplace. Activities include stair climbing, activity zones, healthy eating, walking meetings, meditation zones, ergonomic options, walking stations, healthy cocktail happy hours and in-house exercise classes, amongst others things. Competition was used to stimulate engagement and encourage employees to get out of their comfort zone.

This “Active Design-ing” the workplace concept revolutionized the way employees perceived and experienced the workplace. The program won a Gensler firm-wide innovation award and earned Gensler standing as one of “DC's Top Healthiest Employers.”

After leaving Gensler you took a position with Starbucks as a Senior Production Designer in Miami. Will you be doing any similar work with Active Design at Starbucks?

Although I am new to the company I was able to really learn all about the Starbuck’s brand, corporate guiding principles and office culture. I have identified opportunities for alignment between Starbuck’s mission and Active Design and am planning a similar program to be tailored towards Starbuck’s partners and the needs of various markets. Stay tuned for more great things to come…

What are your thoughts on how firms and practitioners can become more involved?

There are so many options and resources to become involved and informed. Here are just a few suggestions to get started.

AIA - Get involved with your local AIA component. Start an Active Design initiative if the programming is not already in place or join the Design & Health member page on KnowledgeNet.

Implement on projects - a pilot credit called ‘Design for Active Occupants’ was recently added and has been approved by USGBC for LEED certification under the ‘Innovation in Design’ credits portion. This can apply to any project pursuing LEED certification.

Community involvement is also crucial. AIA, Architecture for Humanity and USGBC have special programs with similar agendas in mind to serve the community. Schools are also implementing programs and looking for volunteers to get involved.

Make it part of your corporate bottom line - healthier and happier employees make for productivity, better quality of projects, less absentees and more profits! Firms need to think about Active Design in their workplace in terms of their ROI (return on investment). It is an investment in their employees and their organization as a whole.

Fit Nation - The traveling exhibition Fit Nation shows how changes in the built environment can lead to healthier lifestyles. Contact AIA-NY on more information on hosting the exhibition in your city.



Active Design Resources:

Active Design Guidelines

AIA Podnet: Healthier Lifestyle, Designed

AIA Design and Health

Design & Health on KnowledgeNet


Architecture for Humanity Design Fellowship

Let’s Move

Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Designed to Move


Member Spotlight

Cristina Crespo

Miami FL


Phone: 571-344-9479

Cristina Crespo is currently a Senior Production Designer for Starbucks Coffee Company International Store Design. Previously she held the position of Sustainability Specialist and LEED consultant at Gensler in Washington, DC.

Personal Mission - Continue to spread the message by training and brainstorming with other colleagues on innovative ways of transforming the built environment into active space that promotes wellness.


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